If you told me that my adventure would begin with a 6+ hr drive each way to meet two dogs and possibly, just possibly adopt them if all went well, I would never have believed you. But that was what we did and that is how Josie came into our lives. It was one of the best days of my life.
Josie fit right into our home, our heart, and our lives. It really could not have gone any better. Her story was almost like a fairy tale. She came from a sad situation and thanks to other kind souls who look out for dogs she made it into our lives. She quickly adapted and fit into our lives.
Tonight is our last night with the four foster puppies that we are fostering through the Chemung County SPCA. These are four of the dogs they transported up to the shelter from the south. We spent the evening playing outside for a while and I was able to capture some photos. Help me support the Chemung County SPCA by buying one of these prints from my website for prints at KRNaturalPhoto prints and I will donate 50% of the cost to the SPCA. Also join us at a fundraiser for the Chemung County SPCA on June 30th at Four Fights Distilling in Corning, NY. Thank you for all of your support.
About two years ago my wife and I did something I never dreamt we would do. Our affinity for shelter and rescue dogs grew over the years. We volunteered at the local shelter. We fostered dogs and cats. We began adopting dogs from our local shelter and volunteering there. We enjoyed helping our local animals. We also fell deeper and deeper in love with Bernese Mountain Dogs. Then our love of shelter dogs and our love of Bernese Mountain Dogs collided when we discovered a bonded pair of Bernese Mountain dogs looking for their furrever home and we fell in love. The only hiccup was these dogs were all the way out in Ohio. What is a person to do?
You do what your heart tells you to do. We drove at least 12 hours round trip to adopt a bonded pair of Bernese Mountain Dogs. I don’t know if it was fate or meant to be or what, but when the rescue tells you that these two dogs are very shy and probably will take time to warm up to you so be prepared for that and then you get there and these two adorable dogs run right up to you and want nothing more than to snuggle then if nothing else it is a good sign that you made the right decision. This is how Little Kira came into our lives.
When we take her places and she meets new people they of course want to know her name. When we tell people her name is Little Kira they always look a little in disbelief as if to say “You call this little”. But she became Little Kira because we had previously adopted and adult dog whose name was Kira and our new dog was also well into her adult years and her name was also Kira. We did not want to change either of their names as I’m sure they had become accustomed to responding to those names and the last thing I would want was to create something else for our newest family member to adjust to. So we devised a way to distinguish them from each other and our first and larger Kira became Big Kira and our newest addition became Little Kira despite not being so little herself, but she was little in comparison to big Kira. As Little Kira became more adjust to us and us to her she eventually became affectionately known just as Little and she responded to that as well. I think when you have an 80 to 90 pound dog and her name is little that just endears you to her even more.
I think Little Kira was one of the most affectionate and loving dogs we have had, other than our other Bernese Mountain Dog, Buck. She simply adored people. She loved attention. She wanted nothing more than a hand on her back to pet her. She would do whatever it took to get some time with a human. Anywhere we took her she tried to sidle up to strangers to solicit a few strokes on the head or back. She would lean in and just stay there as long as the person was willing to stay in contact with her. She didn’t care if it was me or my wife or a complete stranger. She wanted to make that human connection. There was no stronger an instinct for her than to seek out some human companionship. I don’t know if that comes from being a rescue dog who unfortunately spent too long with very little human contact or if it was just her natural affinity regardless, but it is one of the qualities that made her unforgettable.
Did a mention that she also had the most adorable eyes. The skin around Little Kira’s eyes was so droopy that her eys almost looked diamond shaped. I would never contend that Little would win any beauty pageants but she had the sweetest most soulful eyes. Her eyes looked like the eyes of a wise elder that had so much knowledge to impart. I’d like to believe that I was able to absorb some of that wisdom she had to share. I hope I currently embody the lessons she had to pass on to us.
When you adopt an older dog you know you inevitably will not have a long time with that dog. This is especially true with a breed like Bernese Mountain Dogs which do not have a long lifespan on average. Little Kira was around 6 years old when we adopted her. When you adopt an older dog you do it because they deserve to have the last few years they have left be happy and full of joy. One thing is for sure when you adopt a senior dog they give you their best. They know that you came for them. They know that you were their last best hope for the golden years to be bright and for them to have the life they deserve and they will shower you with so much love. You will never regret adopting a senior dog.
We were fortunate enough to have her for almost 2 years. Little spent the last few months of her life struggling through cancer. We did everything we thought we could to help her be comfortable. There is no manual for this. You navigate this minefield with your heart and your gut. You do what you feel is right and you do what you think your dog would want for themselves. You try to make decisions without regret and without too much second guessing. Nothing ever feels right but you do your best and in the end you make what you believe to be the most compassionate decision you can. When that life you cherish so much, the life of your faithful companion begins to dip more into suffering than joy, when there is more time spent in pain than in fun, when there is not enough energy to enjoy a day out getting petted by all the humans then you know you have made the decision that must be made. You say goodbye. You spill all the tears. You kiss the nose and say your goodbyes. You promise to never forget.
I’ll miss you sweet Kira but I will never forget you.
About 2 years ago we had to say goodbye to our dog Paxton. The whole situation rocked me in a variety of ways. I wrote a piece about him as I have about many of our dogs after losing them. However, I could not bring myself to go back and edit this piece to make sure it conveyed the message I intended. I was too emotional to even re read the words I had wrote. It sat in the abyss waiting to see the light of day. A year after we lost Paxton I wanted to publish the piece I had wrote as a remembrance of him on his anniversary but I could not find the post anywhere. I couldn’t remember where I had stored the writing. It’s part of my curse. Complete lack of organization. I was devastated to not have that writing anymore. As his 2 year anniversary approached I once again began to search for my writing about him and some how I was able to find it. So now around his 2 year remembrance I am posting this unedited piece that I wrote after the incident that preceded us saying goodbye to Paxton.
I love dogs. Dogs pretty much run my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sure, having as many as 7 dogs (The number of dogs we have right now and the most we’ve ever had at one time.) all in one house, some ours and some fosters, can be challenging at times. It can be stressful and frustrating but it also has tremendous rewards.
It’s been a long time since my wife and I actually sat down and decided that we wanted to get another dog. Dogs just seem to find us. If you are a dog lover I bet you can relate. Dogs just spontaneously show up in your life and become family.
When you commit to having dogs its a lot like deciding to have children. You make changes to your lifestyle to make sure you can provide for your dogs and give them the life they deserve. This is the case each time you decide to add another dog. You evaluate what you will need to do differently to accommodate this new family member and you do it.
Sometimes a new family member may have some special needs. They may have some sort of physical impairment or some sort of psychological condition that requires more than just the normal amount of consideration in ones daily routine. We seem to have been “blessed” with many such dogs in our family.
Sometimes you don’t know you have a special needs dog on your hands when you first bring them into your home (Mojo our husky who we can’t really pet) but at other times you are fully aware of the issues you are taking on (Caspian who had behavior issues).
When we decided to go meet Paxton at the shelter I didn’t really know what to expect. I wasn’t necessarily looking for another dog, but he seemed to be a model citizen with us and our dog we brought along so we brought him home. Once we were home with Paxton we set about learning who he was.
We learned quickly that Paxton had some degree of separation anxiety as he broke out of multiple kennels and had some mild destructive tendencies while we were away. He was very tolerant with our dogs even our two that barked at him incessantly when we had him around. He became best friends with our dog Brynn. All Paxton wanted to do was love us and be loved by us.
We tried as hard as we could to show him how much we loved him and he was never short on affection for us. He was never short of kisses and snuggles. He slept with us every night we had him even on a camping trip.
As we worked with Paxton we learned more about his anxieties. He did not like small children, so we made sure to avoid them. He was OK being around large groups of people durring community events but he ddid not like having one or a few people suddenly approaching on a hiking path. Keeping him moving with a “Let’s go.” cue worked wonders for him.
We learned that putting collars on Paxton was something he did not enjoy. Using treats we could lure him into putting his head through a wide open collar and then let go. Then we could tighten it after it was on him. You could see in his body posture that he did not really like to have a person reach over his head or even reach out to his head to be petted. He has a momentary hesitation and tension displayed in his body. His tail stops it constant wriggle and he tenses and cowers down ever so slightly. So approaching him in other ways is always preferable. Occasionally something would spook Paxton and he would become very barky and defensive towards one of us, but he could always be called off and settled down in a short period of time.
It can be challenging to learn to treat one dog differnetly than all the other dogs in your home.
Being a dog lover is difficult. You want to help every dog. You try to help every dog you can. And sometimes that leads to mistakes.
We recently brought a new foster dog into our home and we adore her. However, she is an 8 month old puppy and has not yet learned to sleep quietly in her kennel throughout the night. This has resulted in some nights with less than ideal sleep. Our morning routine changed.
This combination of change and sleep deprivation probably contributed to me making a mistake. I fed Paxton as I always do. He knows to go to his kennel to eat and I give him a “wait” cue and he waits while I place his food dish and eats when I release him from his “wait”. He is a pretty fast eater so sometimes I am still in the room with him when he finishes eating and I will give him a quick scratch and pet before I leave the room and go on about the rest of my dog care and work prep morning routine.
For some reason this morning I did something different. I did something I have never done with Paxton. I pretty much broke all the rules of human to dog interaction, especially when interacting with an anxious dog.
Paxton finished eating and jumped up on the bed and sat, waiting to be petted. I walked over to him and stood directly in front of him, towering over him. I placed both my hands on his shoulders. I then proceeded to lean over him to try to give him a kiss on the head. And that last part was too much for Paxton to bear. I invaded his space too much. I put too much pressure on Paxton with my behavior. Paxton responded to `my intrusion into his personal space by biting me in the face.
It happened in a flash. Luckily my wife was right there in bed and responded immediately to put Paxton into his crate and then we left the room.
My wounds required me to see a plastic surgeon to stitch my lip back together in two places, as well as a few other wounds requireing sutures. Thankfully I was not critically injured.
My thoughts turned immediately to Paxton. Once I knew I would be OK Paxton was the only thing I could think about. I do not blame Paxton for what happened. The blame lies solely with the human. I still love Paxton. I did not know where to go from here.
With my stitches I could not allow Paxton to continue to sleep in our bed because he is pretty active and loves to like faces and I couldn’t risk the stitches being compromised or risk infection. Paxton had to be penned up in the furnished basement.
My wife and I debated what to do.
There seemed to be no good option.
Paxton’s behavior seemed normal after the incident. He wanted to interact with me and my wife the same as always. Paxton still trusted me despite there terrible situation I put him in.
Unfortuantely, my interactions with Paxton changed. I saw every tension in him. Every time he hesitated I hesitated. I couldn’t trust him. At least not right now.
The options for Paxton are limited:
1.) Surrender him to a shelter: At a shelter with his bite history and his size and unfortunately his breed, he would not likely be made available for adoption and would probably be euthanized. And maybe that would be the most responsible thing for a shelter to do. And I will not pass off my responsibility to make that decision to the shelter, which will do their job. It is my responsibility to make this decision and my responsibility to be there with Paxton when the time comes.
2.) Surrender him to a sanctuary: The biggest concern if this were an option would be what kind of quality of life would he have there. I am not willing to drop him someplace that I don’t know what their reputation is and how they interact with animals that are there for the long term. I don’t have the resources or contacts to know of any reliable sanctuaries that would be willing to take a dog knowing he is not going to be adopted and care for him for the next 10 years. I am only really familiar with one true sanctuary and that one is literally thousands of miles away.
3.) Keep Paxton and continue to manage his behaviors: While I am not completely opposed to this option it does not seem like the most responsible thing to do. If it were just me I would possibly do it and I am sure my wife would say the same thing, but considering we need to look out for each other’s safety and well being this doesn’t seem realistic. We also have to think about those around us. We do not have a fenced in yard. And while Paxton has never shown any indication that he would run off or run up to people it is always a possibility and people getting hurt trying to retrieve him would be my responsibility.
4.) Euthanize Paxton: I hate this option. I do not want to do this. It breaks my to even think about this. However, I think this may be the most responsible option. It protects the safety of my wife and the others in our community. It would ensure that Paxton does not end up somewhere that he may spend his life suffering.
Paxton biting me is like letting the genie out of the bottle and you just can’t put it back in.
Do I think Paxton is a danger to bite someone in general, No. Do I think he would bite me again if I did the exact same thing, yes.
Prior to this incident I was never worried about the possibility that Paxton might bite me or anyone for that matter. Now everything has changed. I don’t know if that is fair to me or fair to him but that is the reality.
This one incident just colors everything else that can possibly happen now. The specter of another bite will always be lingering in the back of my mind.
I can’t risk having that happen to someone else. If my dog bit my wife or someone else the way he did me I could never forgive myself.
I just don’t know that there is any other option that makes sense. There are no good options here. There is no happy ending.
Life can be so unfair. I am angry and distraught. The cost of loving a dog is that your heart can be ripped out of you and that can happen in the most unexpected ways.
I love this dog and I know he loves me. I made a stupid mistake and now it will cost him his life.
I know that no mater what we decide to do there will be people out there who see other options and have other opinions about what we should do and that is fine. This is a situation that has no clear cut answer. You just have to consider all the variables and do what you personally judge to be best. Then you have to live with it.
I think this is a decision one has to make with their head and not with their heart. I think that the only responsible thing to do for all involved is to euthanize Paxton. It tears my up inside to say that. It is NOT what I want for him. It is not what he deserves. The main factors that are leading me to make this decision are his general anxieties and anxiety with being handled in certain ways and his occasional defensive barking episodes directed at us. Perhaps the most influential aspect is how the bite itself happened. While I am sure there was postural body language indications that I should have noticed preceding the bite to indicate that I should stop, there was no obvious warning sign that a human no matter how inexperienced would recognize as a clear warning not to proceed with the behavior. There was no growl or bark preceding the bite to warn me. The bite itself was not just a quick defensive nip to stop me so he could escape either. It was something more serious than that which eludes description by me at this time. I think these circumstances are what must guide my decision.
I think to do anything else under these circumstances is to invite disaster.
Perhaps people in different circumstances with different resources, different connections, and different skills might come to a different decision but this is the only one that I can come to in my circumstances.
I will never know if this was the right decision, but it is the decision that I have made and it may haunt me for the rest of my life. My actions that caused this situation will serve as a lesson that I will carry with me forever.
It might be easy for some people reading this account to conclude euthanasia is the obvious answer, but when it is your dog that ends up in this situation it changes everything. You love your dog and your dog loves you and I feel like I have betrayed my dog by creating this situation where this now has to happen.
Paxton has been such a happy, exited, playful, and loving dog. When I think of dogs being euthanized because of a dog bite I think of aggressive, uncontrollable, and unmanageable dogs that pose an obvious and immediate danger to people. I do not see Paxton.
The wounds to my face caused by the bite were serious but they are already healed. They are not the most serious wounds I will carry with me from this. My heart has been wounded and I fear it will never heal.
If anyone else has had to wrestle with a terrible situation like this please feel free to share your story in the comments. I would appreciate the support and community of others.
There are dog lovers and there are crazy dog people. More and more I feel like we fall into the second category heavy on the crazy. When most people bring a dog into there lives it is with the thought of how how great it would be to incorporate this dog into our lives and share our life with this dog. Sometimes though that is just not how things pan out and we have had several dogs come into our lives where that is the case and Sammy was one of them.
I don’t think most people being a dog into their lives thinking this dog is going to upend every aspect of my life and cause me to change everything I do from the most mundane to the more complex aspects of life. But we seem to do that time and again. Its not that we like change and struggle and challenge, its that we love dogs and we cannot bear to let a dogs life fall to the whims of chance if there is something we can do to help that dog out.
Sammy came into our lives under some unusual circumstances. Sammy’s parents had medical circumstances that prevented them from being able to care for Sammy despite their desire to do so. Sammy ended up in the care of his veterinarian. Coincidentally that is where my wife worked. Also Coincidentally my wife had previously worked on dog training with Sammy and his owners when he was younger.
While Sammy was at in the care of the veterinarians my wife and I would go down and take him for walks because we lived close by. When it became clear that Sammy would not be able to go back home we began to take steps to find Sammy a new home. We contacted rescues and other organizations in an effort to find him a new home. We were in discussions with a rescue in Ohio to take him there and a local rescue that thought they might be able to place him. On the day that we were to head to Ohio to start Sammy on his journey to find a new home we heard from the local rescue that they would work to get him adopted if we would be willing to foster him. What to do?
Of course we agreed to foster him. We knew that because of Sammy’s history and some of his behavior issues he could be a difficult placement but we thought that having Sammy stay at our house in the interim was the best solution. He already knew my wife and had been getting to know me. Why make him go through yet another transition.
We found out relatively quickly despite the initial appearance of getting along that Sammy did not like our dog Mojo. So this was going to require constant supervision and management and separation of those two dogs. Sammy also had some issues with strangers coming into his territory. He loved us and loved people in general but he did not like it if people he did not know showed up in his space. We also learned that Sammy had some pica issues. He would eat lots of inedible objects. We had to start learning how to manage these issues. This required a big change in our life routine for both us and our other dogs.
After agreeing to foster Sammy we started to think about things differently. Sammy clearly loved my wife. He seemed to remember her from his training days. It was just completely evident from the way he followed her around and responded to her the he adored her. We had six dogs at the time and had recently lost our 10 year old Bernese Mountain Dog. We had been doing what we considered to be the “responsible” thing and had not been planning to add another dog to our mix any time soon. But just seeing how Sammy and my wife were the perfect pair in so many ways I couldn’t not suggest to my wife that maybe we should just keep Sammy. Surprisingly my wife hesitated. She was trying to be “responsible”. After all keeping Sammy was not going to be an easy feat.
After Sammy had an altercation with one of our dogs we thought he got along well with we started to think maybe him staying with us was not the best plan and maybe we needed to find him a different home that better suited his needs. We had support from other organizations trying to find suitable matches for him. We spoke to multiple people who were expressed interest in opening their homes to Sammy, but none of them quite worked out.
The experience of living with a dog that you are actively trying to find a new home and interviewing potential adopters was a new experience for me and quite stressful at times. Just hoping and praying that something would work out in Sammy’s favor created this inner turmoil.
After lots of discussion we decided our house was the best place for Sammy to be. And this decision meant a lot of different things for our life. We had to completely dedicate ourselves to managing the situation.
Having Sammy meant spreading ourselves around a lot more so that we could spend time with each of our dogs now that even more of them could not all be in the same rooms together at the same time. It meant closing a door here before you could open another door there. It meant painting a window black so he couldn’t see his arch enemy Mojo. It meant never leaving anything lying around that he could eat. It meant careful interactions when we had visitors. It meant caution and vigilance when he was around the other dogs he seemed to get along with. It meant always worrying you would forget something and something bad would ensue. Sammy was a good dog but a very anxious dog. We loved him and tried to do as much as we could do for him.
Despite the other issues Sammy had he was in many ways a perfect dog. He had great leash manners. He was the only dog we had that did not pull on a leash when he was walked. He was super affectionate. He loved to climb up on his humans and snuggle. He wanted nothing more than to be petted. We were even able to take him camping, although that did have its adventurous moments.
Sammy slept with us every night. He loved sleeping in bed and would roll over on his back. I think it was his favorite part of the day. A little over a week ago Sammy began to eat a little less each day. He also began to vomit periodically. But his behavior remained unchanged. He seemed to be the same energetic happy dog he had been. Then Thursday he didn’t eat any food which he never does. Then Thursday night he vomited multiple times.
It was obvious at this point that Sammy needed to go to the vet. Friday we took him to the vet hoping for the best but fearing the worst. X-rays revealed a mass that was expectes to be an obstruction. The decision was made to have surgery to remove the obstruction. Durring surgery it was discovered that what showed up on the X-ray was not a blockage but a large intestinal mass that was likely cancerous and was inoperable. Our vets are amazing and took the time to explain everything to us and answer our questions. We were even able to see exactly what we were dealing with.
We were able to go to the vets office and say our goodbyes to Sammy while he was still under anesthesia from surgery. We were able to be there with him when he passed on into the next realm. I don’t know if he knew we were there or could hear us talking to him and feel us touching him but i hope that he could.
Knowing full well how difficult Sammy could be at times and his penchant for eating things I had been quietly steeling myself for the day when this time would come. It did not make this particular outcome easier, but i think i was ready for it in a way. Not knowing what Friday would bring I said my goodbyes to Sammy Thursday night when he was still wagging his tail, snuggling me, and looking into my eyes.
Having a dog like Sammy requires a lot of commitment and at times sacrifice. All the little things you give up or change when you have a difficult dog. Sammy’s death was obviously sad and hurt but there is this other stream of thoughts that creep into your mind saying things like “know I can have my life back.” or “Things will be so much easier now.” The selfish feeling thoughts about how this animals death will make your life easier eat away at you a little bit. You feel like a terrible person. This is when it is great to have amazing friends to talk to that have also had experiences like this and assure you that these feelings are normal and that you are not a horrible person for thinking those thoughts. Another part of what makes this loss so hard is with all the changes we made to our life to accommodate Sammy as it starts to get back to “normal” everything you are now doing differently makes you think of him. So that loss stays fresh in your mind and your heart as you realize how much he changed your life.
We did not have Sammy in our lives for long but he was a true force to be reckoned with and we will miss him.